Magical kingdoms and secret gardens don’t necessarily have to stay in the realm of fairy tales any more, proves an Israeli initiative – The Greenhouse – which for over 30 years has been conducting a unique socio-environmental project.
Started by a disenfranchised artist, Avital Geva, in the late ’70s, Geva decided to try and solve society’s problems a different way, through a living greenhouse. Today hundreds of school-age children participate in one of any number of projects.
A special angle to the Greenhouse, or “Hamama” as it is known in Hebrew, is that it naturally involves kids from the Wadi Ara region – both Jewish and Arabs – in building coexistence projects, without them having to realize it.
Says Geva’s son Noam, a guide at the Greenhouse: “In The Greenhouse, we don’t speak about coexistence, but we are doing it. Arab and Jewish kids work together and through their mutual projects, they create something good.
“The children, who are young, don’t know about the conflict and they don’t care about it really,” he adds.
An Intuitive Approach to Green Peace-Building
Noam Geva and the other four guides at The Greenhouse intuitively work with the kids, and also autistic youth, on helping them find “their inner greenhouse” muse.
A child could tell Noam Geva that she is interested in cameras. Geva said in this case, he might propose that she build an underwater movie project for filming the fish; the child would need to learn all aspects of realizing the project from developing blueprints to learning the technical aspects of underwater photography.
Giving Green Life Skills to Autistic Youth
The guides also work with autistic youth in their early 20s, to give them basic gardening and life skills. They learn how to grow spices and paint flowerpots, and help sell some of their wares through Ein Shemer Kibbutz near Hadera, where The Greenhouse is located.
While the broad-brush lessons taught to the kids are never explicit, says Geva, the kids learn along the way, as a matter of course, about the environment, new technologies and co-existence.
“Everyone,” says Geva, “can find his level of research, thinking and doing. But doing is always the key.”
Today, the Greenhouse is a non-profit organization that runs on donations as well as a small amount of money from Israel’s Ministry of Education. So appealing was the concept that leaders from a school in San Diego have come to study the Greenhouse concept in order to implement some of its ideals in the alternative Californian education system, High Tech High.
“Their dream is to build a place like The Greenhouse,” says Geva modestly.
The Greenhouse attracts the brightest youngsters from the region. They come from about 13 different schools, and in some cases cooperate with scientists from agricultural and industrial research institutions in Israel.
Among the environmental practices learned, the students study sophisticated methods of recycling water and finding alternative substrates for soil. Projects that span various disciplines including agriculture, biotech and art, are encouraged.
Like a real-world Secret Garden, Geva admits that the Greenhouse is a magical place. The proof is in the results: amid fish ponds and lily pads, plant nurseries and scientific equipment – and art installations – young Israelis from all walks of like are feeding their souls and minds.
Through learning how to balance water, fauna and flora, relations between human beings can be better balanced, says The Greenhouse website. “Nothing similar can be found in Israel, or the world,” it adds.
This article was reprinted with permission by ISRAEL21c.